Every month brings its own special days. It once was that January was the one month that did not have a holiday, and then they came up with Martin Luther King Day. There was New Year's Day, which is not so much of a holiday as a day to recover from celebrating on New Year's Eve, and about six church festivals, such as Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, the Confession of Peter, St. Timothy (day), the Conversion of St. Paul (the Apostle, not the city), and St. Titus (day). They are important days, to be sure, but no real big holiday. Think back to the last time you got a St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor, card, or a Conversion of St. Paul day gift. So, MLK Day was a welcome relief for many.
February, on the other hand, has an abundance of days that are significant. Some are of note to the Church and many of them are significant to our society. There is Groundhog Day on February 2nd. It is not a big holiday, except, perhaps, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, but it is a fun day, celebrated chiefly by grade-school aged children and memorialized in what I consider an entertaining movie. There are actually about three dozen places in this country where people formally celebrate the holiday and a half-dozen in Canada. But Groundhog Day is not the Big Thing this month. It is a good day, and can be fun, but it is not the big thing.
Celebrated far wider, and even breaking into the card and gift market, is Valentine's Day. It was once a church holiday (or festival), but has been demoted in the Roman Church, although it remains a festival on the calenders of some Anglicans and some Lutherans, We don't get an official day off (which means it is not a Federal holiday), but it is a day for lovers to express their affection with candy and gifts and cards. It is a big day for candy companies, card companies, and jewelers. February 14th may be a big day for a lot of people for their own reasons, but it is not the Big Thing this month either, at least not for the purposes of this article.
Another February holiday is President's Day, which falls on the third Monday of February each year. It combines Washington's Birthday (Feb. 22) and Lincoln's Birthday (Feb. 12) into one observance that has the added beauty of giving February a three-day week-end holiday. Not everyone observes the day with time off from work, but it is still considered a big day by many. The individual president's days had an appeal of their own, and while the uniform celebration regularizes things a bit, people tend to lose track of the significance of the other presidential observances, and we forget more and more about the individual men. President's Day is not the Big Thing this month either.
Many people would say that, for them, Super Bowl Day is the big thing in the month of February. This year it is February 3. It falls on a Sunday to maximize the potential audience for the big game, so it doesn't give many people a day off. For big football fans who have to work on Sundays, that is a point of frustration. For me, unless the Vikings are playing in the game, the football season is over and I pay almost no attention to the game. The Super Bowl was a January thing until 2002, but it has not been played in January since 2003. It is a big thing for sports fans, and for television commercials, but it is not the Big Thing for this month either. It isn't really a holiday, but it is listed on the Pastor's Desk Calendar distributed by Thrivent.
A much bigger thing this month is Ash Wednesday, which February 13th this year. Ash Wednesday can fall as early as February 4th and as late as March 10th, but it is usually a February event, and a huge day in the life of the Church, observed in particular by those communions that also observe the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday was a much bigger deal in the past, when almost every congregation would observe the season of Lent with special mid-week services. Conservative congregations still do, but more and more, the pace of the modern world and the rising commitment to religion that does not interfere in one's life is slowly ending those mid-week services. Lent never was much of a big deal for many Protestant churches, and some of them have mid-week services all year 'round anyhow. It is big deal, and an important observance for those that take the penitential aspect of Lent seriously in preparation of Good Friday and Easter, but Ash Wednesday is still not the Big Thing for this month.
You have probably noticed that I just dismissed all of the formal holidays of the month of February. (I did not list the Transfiguration because, on the calendar our congregation uses, it was observed in January, just before Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.) So, if all of those days, some treasured by many, are not the Big Thing this month, what could possibly be that Big Thing?
The Big Thing this month is the Divine Service each Sunday morning. It is there that the people of God are given the glory of hearing the Word of God from the lips of the man God Himself called, by the agency of the call of the congregation, to speak His Word to them for their blessing, strengthening, and refreshment. There, too. they are granted the grace of eating and drinking the very body and blood of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, distributed by Christ by means of the hands of the man Christ Himself has called to be His hands in that service. That same Divine Service is the place and time that they hear the holy absolution, spoken to them by the command of Christ by the one individual called to speak in Christ's stead at that place and to that flock. God Himself is present (as the Church sings - TLH #4 & LSB #907) at those Divine Services to wait table on His people and to richly bless them and prepare them for life (and, yes, for death) in this cold and hostile world as his children, His ambassadors, His beloved people. How could anything be better or bigger than that?
God speaks to His people. Is there anything bigger than that? We don't hear His natural voice, if God has what we would call a "natural" voice. His voice is always the voice He chooses to use. In the case of a congregation, it is the voice of the man that God Himself called to be pastor there. The voice of that man is the voice of God as long as that man is preaching the Word of God clearly and faithfully. God hides behind the man, so to speak, so that we are not immediately aware that it is God speaking, but if that man is speaking God's Word, and he does so by the call of God mediated through the congregation's call, it is God speaking, and He is speaking with the same authority and power which spoke creation into being. The only reason that we do not witness those sorts of miracles today in church is that God is not speaking those miracles. Remember what Isaiah said, or God through Isaiah, So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
So, through the called pastor, God is speaking the miracle of conversion - changing the hearts of those who heard His Word from hearts of stone into tender hearts of flesh, as the prophet described it in Ezekiel 11 and Ezekiel 36. He is working the miracle of changing the enemies of God into His own beloved children. He is changing the lost and condemned into the redeemed of Christ, and giving them eternal life in glory. It is not as flashy, to the senses of our flesh, as, perhaps, saying, "Let there be light!" and filling the darkness of the universe with visible light - but it is just as powerful. He is working rescue for the troubled, and peace for the fearful, and relief and comfort for the sorrowing and the distressed.
Super Bowl Sunday is known as a day of great eats. People grab their chips and cheese and beer, or any of a thousand sorts of snack foods, and find a comfortable seat to watch the game. In the Divine Service, however, God brings us the true body of His Son, given - sacrificed for us - for the forgiveness of sins. He brings us the very blood that was shed for us and for our redemption, that we may eat and drink and receive all that Christ has won for us. He places that body and blood behind (the Catechism says "in, with, and under") the simple, unleavened bread and unassuming-appearing wine of the Lord's Supper. To the casual observer, it doesn't seem very impressive, but it is the very Medicine of Immortality, filling those who partake in faith with resurrection from the dead and everlasting life. It delivers forgiveness and comfort and strength and peace and life and salvation, for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. Just as at Cana, where the servants filled the pots with water and then drew out from those pots what they had to assume at first was just water, Jesus feeds us with what our senses do not reveal, but His Word tells us. This is heavenly food, and, indeed, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb to His Bride, the Church.
There is so much more going on in the Divine Service than just a "church service". On occasion we see the Holy Spirit being poured out on someone. We don't see the Spirit descend in the form of a dove, but at the pouring out of water in Baptism, we see what God has promised. We also hear God speak, calling His child by name and claiming him or her for everlasting life and adopting that child into His own family. The heavens don't open, at least so that our eyes can detect it, and we don't hear a voice out of heaven, but we hear God speaking in the voice of the one He has chosen to be His voice in that place, calling the name and claiming a former child of sin for His own kingdom.
Even more regularly, we hear His forgiveness proclaimed to the penitent in the absolution. That, too, is God speaking. "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ . . .". There is no pretending going on here, simply the delivery of precious gifts as instructed by the Giver. Jesus demonstrated His authority on earth to forgive sins by healing the paralytic, and now He has commanded His servants to go out and proclaim that forgiveness, His forgiveness, by His authority and not our own. In doing so we share His comfort, His peace, and His rest with those whose hearts were laboring and heavily laden in sin and guilt.
The scheduled holidays for February are an interesting lot. Some are historical and some are just celebrated for fun. The Church festivals are for devotional and instructional purposes, and they are salutary. The biggest thing, however, is that place and time when God comes to us and speaks to His people and feeds His people and forgives us and equips us for life as He sets it before us. Sure, it happens every week, and it is not restricted to this month, but, then, neither are the pressures of life or the terrors of sin restricted to any limited period. The importance of the Divine Service is reflected in how God has so arranged things that we have a Sunday every week.
The Divine Service does not need to be restricted to just Sundays, of course. At various times and in various places, it has been celebrated daily. For most of us, though, it is once a week, and the Christian Church has long agreed that the one day should be the first day of the week, which is also counted as the eighth day of the week, looking forward to eternity. There have been times in various churches where the Lord's Supper was celebrated less frequently than it is today. Some church bodies still don't understand what a great gift it is and so they ignore the Supper to their peril. But we have it each week, along with the Word of God proclaimed, and the blessing of the holy Absolution. God speaks to us, and forgives us, and feeds us, and strengthens us, and blesses us each week in this Divine Service, and regardless of what else is happening in church or society around us, THAT is the Big Thing this month! We hope you will be there!
Yours in the Lord,
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